Thursday, March 19, 2009

"Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose"...

Janis Joplin is speaking to me this morning. I woke up, completely wrecked from the last few days of battle. The battle is of course our fight to save our house from extinction. I'm being dramatic, yes. Extinction from our lives. To save it for ourselves. That's the battle we've been fighting and we're finally waving the white flag of surrender.

It's like this... we finally got it. An answer to our question: Will Countrywide modify our loan enough for us to afford to stay?

It wasn't easy. Tuesday I spent a solid 4 hours on the phone trying for that answer. It began with a 45 minute call to Countrywide that went absolutely nowhere except madness. Bob threw up his arms in surrender. I, however, was energized by this woman's complete lack of understanding or help in any way. We called to find out where we stood in terms of qualifying for Obama's Affordability Plan. She told us it could be 3 days or 3 months before they can give us an answer to that question as they are still waiting on the "green light" from the government. Hmmmm.... that doesn't seem right. Really? This plan went into effect on March 4th, didn't it? The issue is this, we have two 'short sale' offers on the table at the moment (finally) and we need to know- do we submit them or wait for approval? What is our best plan of action? Someone please help us!

I hang up with Countrywide and call the Department of Treasury. A woman named Betty answers. "Hi, I say while smiling to make sure she hears that smile in my voice. My husband and I own a home in California that is currently 'in foreclosure' status and--" there was suddenly a ringing in my ear. Strange. I was apparently being transferred. A recording tells me I am now connected to 995-HOPE. I press 1 for English. I get a man who asked in a very droopy depressing voice if I would like debt counseling. “How did you hear about 955-HOPE,” he asks as though he’s just swallowed half a bottle of Valium. “Uh, well…” I start, “I didn’t actually hear about you. I was just sent here. Without a word.” “Huh,” he says, “Okay.” He then tells me what they’re all about and how they offer debt counseling services. I tell him that I don't need counseling I need help in dealing with Countrywide. I needed to understand why they keep saying that they are waiting on information from the Federal Government. He tells me, “You know you’re the third person I’ve spoken to today who has had the same exact complaint about Countrywide.” I’m not surprised. “For some reason a lot of lenders were in the dark and didn’t have people trained to have people on the program on March 4th, I guess.” Huh. “Huh. I don’t know.” “I don’t know either.” “Well…” he says. And I say, “Okay, then. I guess I’ll just keep trying.” “Thank you for calling 995-HOPE,” he says in his Droopy Dog voice. I am fortunately able to appreciate the irony in the moment. I continue on.

I call my Congresswoman: Diane Watson. A woman answered on the first ring. I tell her that I had e-mailed the Congresswoman on March 10th and hadn’t gotten a response so I am now calling. She puts me on hold. On hold now. Waiting. Bob’s in the other room lying down. I just happen to be the one w/ the enthusiasm now. I’m determined to reach someone today. This is my mission. He’s exhausted, depressed by the runaround. I know that feeling. Other days it’s me lying in the other room while he’s on the phone w/ our lender and creditors. I tell my mom this later and she says: "It's great that on any given day one of you is in the 'take charge' position while the other is in the fetal position." This makes me laugh.

I'm still waiting. It’s now 1PM. Just got the brilliant idea to put the phone on speaker so I wouldn’t have to hold it up to my ear while I wait. Quiet. No hold music. She’s back! Asking for my name again. Now address. Trying to make my voice sound very friendly. She sounds tired. Like I’m putting her out by calling. She notes our address then asks about the e-mail I said I sent. I gave her the gist of the message. Our situation. What we’re trying to do… stay in our house, avoid foreclosure, etc. I hang up at 1:15 with new information- an e-mail and fax for Diane Watson's Chief of Staff. Hallelujah. An actual person.

As I am doing this I realize that it all might be pointless. Should we just go forward with the short sale and forget about fighting to stay in the house? Would it be better to just move on? Maybe. I don’t know. I truly do not know. I just don’t want the house to be sold out from under us without warning. The one thing that is consistent w/ Countrywide is that every time we talk to them they remind us that while there isn’t a sale date on the house, they could assign one at any moment.

I’m calling Arnold’s office now. Yes, the Governator. I press 1 for English. To leave a comment, press 1, to invite the Governor to an event, press 2, to get information about Maria Shriver, press 3 (seriously?), then more options that don't apply to me and finally to talk to a representative, press 6. Please hold during the silence. I’m on hold. Still holding. It’s been 3 minutes. Arg, I just remembered about the speakerphone. Why do I keep forgetting? It’s not until my neck starts cramping that I remember that trick. Ah, a person. Telling me that e-mails take 30 days to respond to. Telling me to contact Senator Feinstein in regards to anything related to the Federal Government. She recommends I contact the Department of Corporations which is part of the State of California and is concentrating on home loan modifications specifically related to Countrywide. Sounds perfect.

It's now 1:50 and I'm calling the Department of Corporations- they are transferring me to the Financial Services division. It only took me 2 minutes on hold to remember the speakerphone function this time. I’m learning. My neck and shoulders thank me. This woman is telling me to call the Department of Real Estate. I told her that the Governor’s office said that they were working w/ loan mods and specifically w/ Countrywide and she puts me on hold. She wants to “find out” and call me back. I’m not sure what she needs to find out. Who I need to speak with? Where to transfer me? I’m an air hockey puck today. She returns to tell me that she'll call me back. It’s now 1:57.

I hang up and eat a cupcake. Red Velvet.

The phone rings. It's the woman from the Department of Corporations calling to say that her contact at Countrywide will be calling me. Hmmmm.... I'm not holding my breath (I don't say that... I say thank you!!)

Phone rings again. BLOCKED call. I answer. “Hi, I’m calling from the Office of the President at Countrywide because the Governor’s Office asked me to.” NO WAY!!!!!!! I can’t believe it worked!!!!! Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god. She is a real, rational, knowledgeable person. She tells me that Countrywide hasn't had enough time to develop the guidelines as to how they will train implement the Obama plan. She calls it that: "The Obama Plan." And this is why they can't give us any answers. However, she understands the urgency of our situation given that we have two offers on the table and need to make a decision... so she hooks us up with a negotiator who will assess our finances and submit us for consideration for a loan modification. We have to fax:

1. Two recent bank statements
2. A budget sheet
3. The Letter of Hardship

When I ask if they can stall our foreclosure in the meantime, she says that they “can’t change the code now” But that it would be extremely unlikely to have a sale date set at this point. Extremely unlikely. She speaks from experience. She and her husband have a loan w/ Countrywide that was in foreclosure. They’re trying to do a workout. This doesn't bode well for us. She and her husband both work for Countrywide and they're "trying" to do a workout? Oh boy. She tells us that it’s not like once a sale date is set they can’t postpone it. She will have our negotiator call us tomorrow given that we have an offer we need to respond to before it expires. This way we’ll have a better idea of our chances for a foreclosure. This is amazing. It’s truly fantastic. It’s the first time we’re getting actual answers. Someone actually responding to our case.

I call my mom later and tell her the whole story and she says: “Imagine how hard it would be for all those people out there who don’t speak English very well or don’t understand the process or know what questions to ask.” Thinking about that almost makes me cry. I know we are in a great place. We both have jobs. We are resourceful. We can conjure up possibilities out of thin air. We have college educations. I have my masters. We’re savvy. And yet it’s still taken us seven months to get any actual cooperation with Countrywide.

My dad had suggested we call the Governor’s office. And I did. Because, why not? I had nothing to lose. I spoke, probably, to an intern. She gave me the right number to call. The Department of Corporations. I spoke to a woman. My new hero. I said something (I have no idea what) that had her listen. She took the time to call her contact at Countrywide in the Office of the President with the request to have them call us then made a second call to me to let me know she had done this. She went out of her way. She didn’t have to. She got the Office of the President to call me. And here we are. We will soon actually know the best plan of action. There is a possibility that our negotiator will tell us we have too much overall debt for them to modify our loan enough for us to afford it. But at least we’ll finally know. That they tried everything. That the Short Sale IS the best route. And we can submit the offer knowing that we’re taking the best plan of action. We can let the house go knowing we did everything. That the Governor’s office was on our side (well…) and we can walk away with power. Into the unknown. The next adventure. With seven months of knowledge and new found moxie on our side.

That was Tuesday.

Wednesday, we did hear from our negotiator. They did review our case and approve us for a plan. Not a modification. Nothing that would actually help us. We could pay $3058 (that we can't afford) for three months to stop the foreclosure and then after 3 months they would reassess our case. This would buy them time to get the Obama Plan into effect. But there's no guarantee. In three months we could still be denied assistance. And by then we'd lose the offers. So saying we could afford the $3058 a month (which we can't) we'd be living each day in the unknown and neither or us can stomach that anymore. We've lived seven months in the unknown. It's time to start owning our future.

So that leads us to today. Signing the Counter offer. Moving forward in negotiations. Letting go.

"Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose." When I was in my twenties, this meant something totally different to me. It meant if you have nothing, if you don't have love, you have nothing worth living for. Now, it clearly means when you have nothing, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. That's the interpretation I'm embracing in this moment. That is what speaks to me.

A couple of months ago when Bob and I were having one of our reflective conversations while walking Pablo (the Pug) he said to me: "If you think about it, losing everything is the perfect opportunity to live the life of your dreams." That is the most empowering context for our lives right now. Recalling that is what got me out of bed this morning. I was reminded that this truly is an opportunity. To let go and live the life of our dreams. We are not our possessions, we are only who we say we are in any given moment. Truthfully, I waiver between "overwhelmed" and "free." But I know I can be either in any given moment.

As I initial page after page on the counter-offer, and confront the reality of our situation head-on, I am free.

-Governor Schwarzenegger's Office
-Department of Corporations
-United States Department of Treasury
-Me & Bobby McGee (written by Kris Kristofferson & Fred Foster)


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